By the time you’re reading this, I am probably on my way to Miami where I will shortly be relaxing on a white sand beach with a drink in my hand. After a cold snowy Christmas in the Midwest, I am very excited for this trip, so much so that I made a playlist for the occasion. The playlist is filled with lots of songs about beaches and sunshine.
As I listened to my playlist, one song stood out to me. It stood out to me because it was a country song that talked about science! Here’s a few lines, let’s see if you recognize it: “I was feelin' the blues. I was watching the news when this fella came on the TV. He said I'm tellin' you that science has proven that heartaches are healed by the sea.”
That’s right, it was “Two Pina Coladas” by Garth Brooks! As silly as this song is, and as much as it made me want a nice fruity beverage, it more so made me want to know if the “fella… on TV” was right. Has science proven that heartaches are cured by the sea? It’s true! Well, not necessarily heartache, but people are scientifically happier when they spend time near water. You may have heard of green spaces, parks in cities and such, but there are also BLUE SPACES. The positive effect of blue spaces - the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – has been studied for over a decade.
It has been found that living within 1km (and to a lesser degree if within 5km) of a blue space has substantial general and mental health benefits, but the biggest benefits are seen when you visit that blue space for at least two hours a week. The first benefit is environmental. Aquatic environments often have less polluted air and more sunlight. Next, people who live in these areas tend to be more active. They have access to water sports like surfing or skiing, but they also walk or bike more often. Both of these are also true for green spaces, but the third benefit is what sets it apart. Blue space has been shown to have a psychologically restorative effect. Time and time again research shows significantly higher ability of blue spaces to induce positive moods and reduce stress than green spaces can.
Unfortunately, not all of us have access to the ocean, which gives the highest benefits, but a 2010 study found that even access to a fountain will do. If you live in a city, or far from lakes or the sea, find what blue spaces are near you. Is there a river you can take a walk along? Is there a fountain where you could take your lunch break? Wherever you are, it’s in your best interest to find a blue space to bring you joy and comfort. No matter if you live near the ocean or in a desert, away from any blue spaces, you can also always find joy and comfort in God. Just like the beach won’t automatically get rid of all of your problems, God isn’t a magical genie that makes your debt or other stressers disappear. Instead, he brings you comfort in those difficult times. He reminds us that our lives are bigger than our current problems.
Over and over again in the scriptures we hear about people who have found joy by relying on the Lord in their times of difficulty. One great example is when St. Paul writes to the Philippians. He tells them over and over again to rejoice and be joyful. One of the most famous passages being this one:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7
You might be thinking to yourself, “Okay Paul, you make this sound so easy, but what do you know about struggling?” What he knows about it is that he was in jail when he wrote this. He was in danger of DEATH, and he was still filled with joy and encouraging others to do the same. He had this joy because he knew Christ. He found this joy and comfort in his difficult circumstances because he followed his own advice of praying often, having that close relationship with God.
Another quote that I love that reminds me of the joy I’m missing out on when I slack in my prayer life is from Saint Augustine, “Oh, God, to know you is life. To serve You is freedom. To praise you is the soul's joy and delight.”
We may be in the dreary and cold months of the year. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. All of us have difficulties in our life. I hope that you will take the time to find a blue space, but even more so I hope that you will search out comfort in God. His joy is everlasting.